Singers lend a hand

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The recent tornado in Austin has resulted in an outpouring of help not only from Austin residents, but from a Nebraska-centered group as well.

The New Way Singers, a high school ensemble centered in Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Neb., were planning to spend a free day of their Midwest tour in Austin when they heard about the recent tornado damage. Instead of going to the Spam Museum, they cleared debris from George Morris’s farm, where the tornado hit hardest.

“It was wonderful,” said Church of Christ Pastor David DeFor, the group’s primary contact. “The very morning it hit, they called.”

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About 70 high school students from the New Way Singers and 20 adults and sponsors spent a sweltering afternoon Monday clearing two fields of metal scraps, wood and large debris.

Salvation Army and United Way volunteers also helped out on the farm in southwest Austin.

New Way Singers director Ron Leach said the group volunteers for a different service project each year, such as the Homeless Mission in Tulsa, Okla., but on this tour they didn’t have anything lined up. Then, at the last minute, Austin presented an opportunity for a service project.

“We’re trying to teach the students about leadership,” Leach said.

Mandi Schmidt, director of the Mower County Chapter of the United Way, expressed her appreciation for the volunteers.

“They have done a ton, a ton of work,” she said.

“These kids are fantastic,” DeFor added, who had previous connections to the New Way Singers.

Morris, who has lived on the farm for 35 years, said he never saw a more destructive storm. Luckily, Morris was not home at the time of the tornado, because it damaged the roof of his house and demolished three pole barns. He cannot live in his home right now because of the threat of mold.

The United Way organized the group’s effort and local businesses offered their services as well. Home Depot provided gloves, the YMCA allowed use of their showers and the Salvation Army and George’s Pizza sponsored meals for the high school students.

After their day of volunteer work, the “New Way Singers” performed a free concert titled “Be Still” at the Church of Christ.

The New Way Singers is a group based on auditions and consists of high school and college students from a range of midwestern states. Their tour took them through Sioux Falls, S.D., St. Cloud, Minneapolis and Albert Lea, and will continue through several cities in Iowa and Nebraska.